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Living the dream

Ex-North star McArthur makes the most of his chance to play forNo. — Cal State Fullerton Titans

Just about every child who has picked up a baseball glove or bat has, at some point, let his or her mind wander to what team they someday hoped to play for.

It's a natural fantasy when sports are involved.

Maybe it's a certain high school program or the local college or even a major-league franchise that somehow winds up playing games in your backyard through dreamy sequences, interrupted only by homework or darkness.

Evan McArthur had such a dream living in Southern California as an up-and-coming baseball star. He often let his mind wander to the day when he would finally get to don the uniform of his favorite team, the Cal State Fullerton Titans.

That dream moved closer to reality as McArthur excelled at North Medford High and, later, at Eastern Arizona Community College.

— He finally joined the Titans in the summer of 2003, but almost immediately had shoulder surgery and sat out the 2004 season as a medical redshirt. As a man without a position in 2005, the former all-star pitcher and shortstop primarily came off the bench as the team's top pinch hitter.

Dedicating himself like no time before, McArthur finally broke through to bring his dream full circle this season as the Titans' starting third baseman.

And, to hear McArthur tell it, the long journey to his dream destination has most definitely been worthwhile.

It's everything I always cracked it up to be, so I'm happy, says the 21-year-old redshirt junior.

I love it here ... I'm 10 minutes from where I grew up before I moved to Oregon, he adds. I have a lot of family and friends down here, so I feel right at home.

With McArthur's help, the Titans (31-10) are ranked No. — by Baseball America and No. 2 in the USA Today coaches poll (behind Rice) and No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball (behind North Carolina).

Only two weeks ago, Fullerton was No. — in all three polls, and McArthur's spring upswing was a prime factor in that unanimous ranking. He earned Big West Conference player of the week ending March 26 after leading the Titans in hitting (.615), runs (four), home runs (two) and RBIs (five), and followed that up with 10 more hits the ensuing week.

He's a very serious, hard-working young man, says 10th-year Titans coach George Horton. The players almost kid him because sometimes he can be a little too serious. He's just a blue-collar guy who brings his lunch pail to work every day and is as complete of a player as we have here.

Entering Friday's opening game of a series with UC-Riverside, McArthur is tied for third on the Titans with a .331 batting average and ranks second in homers (five) and RBIs (26) despite hitting eighth in the lineup.

It's not something I'm used to, McArthur says of hitting eighth. I've always been in the top four spots, but whatever works. If that's what they see me in, I'll take the at-bats. Plus, with our lineup as strong as it is, being in the seventh, eighth or ninth hole doesn't mean you're a bad hitter.

It's a strategy Horton holds firmly to, although he says he did entertain the idea of moving McArthur up in the order when he was particularly hot last month.

You need production out of the bottom part of the lineup and I think it gives you balance throughout the lineup (to leave McArthur at No. 8), says Horton, who guided the Titans to the national championship in 2004. That's been the story of our offense over the years. At Cal State Fullerton, we like to set it up so there's not an out in the lineup.

And while Horton is certainly pleased with what McArthur has been able to do at the plate, he says the former Southern Oregon Conference player of the year solidified his role with the team thanks to his solid defense at third base.

He had life in his bat from Day 1, says Horton, but the thing that he's improved most in the three years he's been here is his defense. He's gone from a guy we worked with a little bit to a guy you don't want to take out and let anyone else play the position.

The transition has been a gradual one for McArthur, and both coach and player credit last year's third baseman, Ronnie Prettyman, for laying the foundation for this year's success.

He pretty much took me under his wing and I really think I learned a lot from him, McArthur says of his predecessor. He had played some middle infield and went to a junior college for a year before coming here, too, so it was almost the same scenario.

Considering McArthur has only four errors this season ' none in Big West play ' in 100 chances, Horton couldn't be more pleased with the transition.

If he's not as good as Ronnie Prettyman, he's pretty close to it, says the coach, and we thought Ronnie had set the bar pretty high.

We almost laugh when somebody tries to drag bunt on Evan because it's been money in the bank, adds Horton. He's real good at that. And our shortstop is not a deep-in-the-hole guy, so Evan makes up for a lack of arm strength at shortstop with his range.

And almost none of it would be possible if McArthur hadn't been willing to work at turning his dream into reality.

A lot of Evan's development has come from his persistence and hard work and dedication to get better each day, Horton says of the former Titans bat boy. He's been a great addition to this team.

Living the dream"khenry@mailtribune.com.

Evan McArthur was named Big West player of the week recently for top-ranked Cal State Fullerton.